Klout has caught a lot of flak lately about privacy and much more. To which they've responded by allowing users to opt-out of data collection. If you already have a profile, the company says you can delete it. But Hollis Tibbits of Social Media Today says that Klout isn't allowing users to delete profiles after all. What gives?

Hollis says that he deleted his Klout profile, then went back and signed up again with his Twitter handle. Tibbits says that the "only logical conclusion is that Klout kept all my profile information and account linkages."

Is that the only logical conclusion? I contacted Klout today to find out. I spoke to Tyler Singletary, who's a developer evangelist for Klout. Singletary says, "we really are deleting the profiles, and we really are deleting the auth data" that allows Klout to connect to the social networks.

If that's so, how is Tibbits getting a profile that shows all the past data? Singletary says that social networks provide data to Klout in different ways. Services like Twitter give Klout past data when you sign up, not just data from that point forward. So Klout is able to refill data if you come back after deleting your profile.

Singletary says that Klout respects privacy "above almost all else here." The perks system that Klout employs, says Singletary, doesn't provide any demographic data about the users or any other personally identifying information. They may provide some aggregate information (Singletary says that he's not on the team that works with advertisers) but nothing that's personally identifiable.

In other words, Singletary says this isn't a case of Klout keeping data the whole time. It's a case of getting the same data that it had before.

Klout and Privacy

Singletary says that Klout respects privacy "above almost all else here." The perks system that Klout employs, says Singletary, doesn't provide any demographic data about the users or any other personally identifying information. They may provide some aggregate information (Singletary says that he's not on the team that works with advertisers) but nothing that's personally identifiable.

When an advertiser runs a campaign, they may get things like tweets sent in response to the campaign – but only things that are publicly available anyway. He also points out that Klout deals with the same information from Twitter and other public sources that other companies do.

But Klout has been more visible in this regard because it's setting itself up as a visible aggregator and evaluator of social network data. Klout's judging people on their ability to "drive action" on social networks, so Klout gets people's attention. There are likely companies that are scraping your public data and using it for marketing or other purposes without any disclosure at all.

Skepticism

Klout's facing a lot of skepticism right now, and some of it seems well-founded. I tend to agree with John Scazi on the actual necessity of Klout, and see some dangers in people relying on Klout as a metric. Klout, if you dig, is clear that they are not providing an absolutely measure of influence – they're providing a measure of the ability to drive activity on social networks. But the reality is that it's being viewed as a measure of influence, and an unwanted one by many.

Qualms aside, it's not reasonable to test a single user account and declare that the company is lying about deleting data, without more information or understanding what gets pulled when you re-authorize Klout. Contacting the company for comment also doesn't seem unreasonable. It seems likely that Klout can regenerate its scores by re-connecting to social networks after you've pulled the plug.

Singletary says that they're looking at about a 90-day window now, which means that they'd go back and access as much of the data as your social networks will give when you re-authorize the service.

So if you really want to test you should unplug for more than a week and look at multiple Klout accounts. And if you really want to test Klout, a more accurate way to do so would be to delete some of the social media accounts and then see if Klout has the same scores. That would be proof of a service storing data.

For now, I don't see enough evidence to show that Klout isn't doing what they say they're doing.

What we need isn't Klout, though – what we really need is a reputable company that can audit services like Klout and provide independent reports as to how our social data is handled.